Inside the Capitol

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Three days to go and a thousand bills to cover. That's a tall order and it won't be filled.
At the beginning of this session, when the leadership battle between Democratic candidate Sen. Pete Campos and conservative Democrat candidate Mary Kay Papen was fought, it was explained that the president pro tem of the Senate appointed all the committees. To many, that didn't seem like a crucial power.
But it is. The committee chairman can hold a bill in his/her committee for the entire session without hearing it. The old accounting principal of first-in, first-out doesn't apply. An important bill simply can be ignored.
Occasionally it gets less simple. Back in the 60s, Fred Foster, chairman of the House Education Committee, grabbed a bill he didn't like, placed it in the bottom drawer of his desk. Locked the drawer and proclaimed it would never see the light of day. The action really wasn't necessary but Fred wanted to make a point.
Sen. Tom Benavides wasn't even a committee chairman but somehow he got hold of the original copy of a bill, which is the only copy that counts. He got in his car and drove it to Juarez, where it remained for the rest of the session.
I'm sure similar situations have occurred many times but I witnessed these happening. The most common occurrence, however, is for a committee secretary to have a list of lame excuses for bill sponsors who wander why their bill is not being hears by a committee.
Unless a bill has been heard by every committee to which it has been referred at this point in a session, it is essentially dead. Committees don't meet much at this point in a session because floor sessions, which take precedence are nearly always in session hearing bills that already passed all their committees.
When a newspaper headline announces a bill has passed a committee, readers sometimes are confused that the bill now is law. But that is just a small step in the process.
New Mexico has a mini-filibuster process in which lawmakers can talk a bill to death, thereby slowing down the process and running out the clock before other bills are considered.
At this point in a session rumors start flying that a special session will have to be called to consider important legislation that won't have time to pass it doesn't happen often unless it is a bill the governor deeply wants. The governor is in charge of calling special sessions.
Guns are the subject of a tremendous amount of legislation this year after all the mass shootings. Many are predicting that this is the year when people will quit talking about gun control and actually doing something.
But a surprising amount of legislation promotes gun rights. According to the Council of State Governments, 30 states have introduced legislation making it a felony to enforce federal gun restrictions. New Mexico is one of those states.
It was predicted that the first bill passed and signed in New Mexico would a bill limiting liability of aerospace manufacturers in the case of space travel accidents. New Mexico's Spaceport America is losing business because of not having the legislation.
But those bills are languishing in committees. The first bill passed after the "feed bill" that pays expenses for the legislative session was a bill by Sen. William Payne of Albuquerque designating April as Bataan—Corregidor Heritage Month
It is a very worthy bill. Several Bataan events will be coming soon, including a reenacting of the March. We'll be talking about some of those events in a coming column.
Meanwhile it is time for some late night sessions to get some business done at the state capitol in Santa Fe.


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